Fr. Frank McDevitt is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Aurora, Ont.
When I was a child, we always had dessert with dinner. Often it was fruit that had been stewed in some way. Apple sauce, rhubarb, crab apples. There were various berries as well.
As we focussed on our dessert, my mother inevitably said, “Eat some bread with that or you will be hungry before bed time.” Bread is the natural remedy for hunger.
Even today, if we imagine someone who is starving, we imagine bread as the remedy for their affliction.
With all the talk of bread in today’s readings, it may be useful for us to recognize the importance of bread during times of particular hunger.
More than a few people have told me that they find that we are living in a cranky time.
I am sure it relates to the long COVID journey and the isolation the pandemic has brought with it. There are any number of news stories that can leave us profoundly unsettled. Environmental tragedies, like fires in the west and flooding in Europe. People who follow the news wonder what is going to happen in Afghanistan. And then there is the persistent shadow of the residential schools in Canada.
Part of this crankiness is the lack of unity. We can’t seem to embrace common cause to confront the pandemic. Debates quietly go on about vaccinations and the divide between those who will get the shot and those who will not.
We are not unlike the people in the desert who are despairing the leadership of Moses. There had been endless blessings for the people of Israel. They found their way out of enslavement to freedom, the Red Sea parted, but now they long for the good old days when they were enslaved. They are longing for the time when they had lots of bread to eat.
God comes into the maelstrom and promises the people of Israel bread from Heaven and He is good for His promise.
We in this time of transition could long for the good old days before COVID. We could wish that we were not burdened by the environmental crises that reflect the impact of global warming. We could wish that there was an easy solution for the many difficulties that face Indigenous people in this country. We long for a better way and a better place.
Our longing is a hunger and the first response to that hunger is Christ.
He is that living bread that will sustain us.
Israel wanders in the desert of Sinai and the Gospel people wander around Galilee.
Both in search of compassion and bounty.
The great promise of living bread.
My mother knew that bread was the natural remedy for the hunger pangs of a growing child.
Christ tells us today that He is the remedy for our greater hunger.
As manna sustained the people of Israel during their time in the desert, Christ sustains us. He is the living bread.
How does He do this?
He does it in many ways, through enlightening our minds in word and prayer. He does it by promising compassion and forgiveness. But all ways lead to the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, we encounter the living Christ. In the Eucharist, we consume the living Christ and in accepting the living Christ, we too become the body of Christ.
Jesus is the Communion that leads us back to a fuller life when we have strayed or when we are discouraged or disillusioned.
It is easy to consider the Eucharist as a beautiful and consoling idea. But it is not an idea. It is a concrete expression of Christ longing to be one with us. And by our embracing the promise of His words in today’s Gospel, we are one with Him.
In embracing fully this profound mystery that touches our lives each day, we are equipped with Christ’s presence.
In Christ we come to a deeper gratitude for the created order, we grieve properly for the ways that the Earth struggles and is degraded by our carelessness.
In Christ we pray for peace and justice in Afghanistan and in any number of places around the world.
In Christ we commit ourselves to listening to the Indigenous communities. Listening not so we can give advice, rather listening so we can effectively acknowledge our role in their degradation and embrace our responsibility to let them solve their own problems.
Let us rejoice in the bread of life who is there to sustain us as we meet so many problems great and small.
With the reassurance of wellbeing in Christ, let us meet the challenges of each day.
This homily is based on the readings for 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; and John 6:24-35.